A rich assortment of fraught relationships bolsters this family story and its characters.

THE CUFFLINK

A debut multigenerational novel focuses on a 20th-century Jewish American family.

When the book introduces Frederick Green, he is a young boy listening to his siblings practice their instruments. The Greens are a Jewish family living in Philadelphia in the 1930s. They may not be rich, but thanks to Fred’s father, a Latvian immigrant who sells insurance, they make do. Unfortunately, the family is struck by tragedy when Fred’s brother, Will, a violin virtuoso, dies at a young age. The calamity sends Fred’s sister, Lorraine, down a path that will end in her own early death. These events leave Fred as the sole Green child to make it in the world. But make it he does. Fred wins a college scholarship, becomes an ace boxer as an undergraduate, and eventually earns a law degree. He then opens his own law firm, marries into a wealthy family, and soon he and his wife have a child. Fred must painstakingly build his practice, yet all seems to be going well. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 has Fred attempting to join the military, but, due to his age and status as a family man, he must settle for helping crack enemy codes as a civilian. Things take a dismal turn when Fred becomes caught up in a shady business deal run by his father-in-law. The whole affair, which includes accusations of arson, will cost Fred everything. With time and determination, however, he rebuilds and remarries. He even passes along his drive to a new daughter named Samantha, who will one day become an attorney just like her dad. Bolch’s ambitious story tends to focus on relationships, and they are mostly unhappy ones. From Fred’s sister’s abysmal marriage to a local boor to Samantha’s equally dreadful union with an overachiever, the partnerships are hardly glamorous. But it is through these difficult pairings that the tale generates its best material. Just as it seems someone has found the right person, it becomes very clear that is not the case. Samantha, for instance, becomes engaged to a medical student at Columbia. Watching such a seemingly excellent pairing fizzle gives the book the kind of palpable conflict that remains lacking in other areas. A number of scenes can be dull, including Fred’s law school graduation, which is no more thrilling that it sounds. Dialogue can often be dry, as when a suitor explains to Samantha rather flatly: “I’ll pick you up at six so that we can have dinner before the show.” Nevertheless, certain details give the saga color. Fred’s adventures take him to a once-famous resort in upstate New York while Samantha eventually finds herself in an indisputably gloomy Scranton, Pennsylvania. Still, more information might have painted a more robust picture. If the Greens reflect on the myriad changes in Pennsylvania and the country over the years, such musings are not noted.

A rich assortment of fraught relationships bolsters this family story and its characters.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5439-4210-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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